He has someone's life in his hands
His son benefited from a bone marrow transplant, so volunteer courier Roger Prior delivers these stem cells to others in need
When it comes to delivering bone marrow from anywhere in the world to a waiting patient, failure is not an option for volunteer courier Roger Prior.
On one occasion, Mr Prior was scheduled to fly on Singapore Airlines from Houston, Texas, with stem cells crucial to someone here. Suddenly, lightning struck the control tower and knocked it out. The airport was shut down temporarily so that emergency facilities could be set up.
"We departed three hours later, which meant our flight was due to land in San Francisco minutes after the connecting flight to Singapore was to have taken off. I spoke to the cabin crew about the importance of my cargo and one of them informed the captain. It seemed he stepped on the gas," he said.
Mr Prior was received by a Singapore Airlines representative in San Francisco, who raced him across the terminal to a waiting plane with 400 passengers already strapped in.
The stem cells got to the patient in time.
"I am holding someone's life in my hands," Mr Prior, an Australian in his 70s, told The New Paper.
He would know.
His eldest son Daniel was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1996 and needed a transplant.
The Singapore Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) was very new then and the registry was mainly set up to meet the needs of the Singapore population.
His son, then aged 11 and a Singapore-born child of an Australian father and a British mother, could not find a local match.
"The registry played a vital role in the global search," said Mr Prior, who has been a permanent resident here since the 1980s and runs his own executive search firm, Roger Prior Associates.
"I still remember how vulnerable and on-edge everybody felt waiting for the precious hand-carried cargo of bone marrow to arrive from Australia."
So when the BMDP needed to establish an international courier service in 1995 to support the growing number of overseas donors, the grateful Mr Prior helped out.
The BMDP said volunteer couriers can make up to several trips within a year. Mr Prior never really experienced any language problems "although sometimes I used my few words of Mandarin, German and often a lot of hand gestures to get by".
His flights and accommodation are usually paid for by the patients once a match has been found, said BMDP president Jane Prior.
"But the search for a match is done free. We also reimburse Roger's expenses abroad," she added.
Mr Prior has made more than 100 trips and travelled all over the world as a BMDP courier to bring stem cells back to those in need in Singapore and neighbouring countries, collecting products from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
"The BMDP used to be a one-man organisation and did not have any resources," he said. "The transplant doctors were also acting as the couriers.
"From our own family experience, I believed their time was better spent doing what they are best at, which is looking after their patients."
The Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) is a charity responsible for building and managing Singapore's only register of volunteer bone marrow donors.
Established in 1993, it provides a 365-day service to the hospitals to search the local and overseas registers to find a matching donor for their patients.
There are 62,000 currently on the Singapore list.
Since there is just a one in 20,000 chance of finding a matching donor, BMDP hopes to recruit 50,000 new donors in the next three years.
BMDP is a member of the World Marrow Donor Association.
Wanting people to see how unrelated blood stem cell donations are saving lives in a very real way all over the world, its president from 2013 to 2014, Associate Professor William Hwang, penned a book entitled Sharing Life to document personal stories of patients, donors and even couriers.
Professor Hwang, who is also head of the department of haematology at the Singapore General Hospital, said the book "gives readers a behind-the-scene glimpse of how individuals and organisations with a common vision come together, cross boundaries of nationality, ethnicity and geography to make a real difference to the life of another through the exchange of stem cells".
The book is available for sale at US$19.90 (S$27) on Amazon.com and Armour Publishing.